CLEVELAND, OH — Updated numbers from the Ohio Department of Health show hundreds of people were likely infected with coronavirus in the state up to two months before the announcement of Ohio’s first three cases in Cuyahoga County.
Health officials confirmed what had been Ohio’s first cases of COVID-19 on March 9.
But the latest state health numbers show 302 probable cases of the virus before that date.
The earliest probable cases listed are two women, including one from Erie County, who began showing symptoms on January 2.
According to the state, “probable” cases means the patient tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, and saw a doctor who confirmed the patient had COVID-like symptoms.
Widespread community testing for the virus in Northeast Ohio didn’t start until March.
According to the state’s data, Cuyahoga County had the most probable cases prior to March 9, with 41.
Today, Cuyahoga County Board of Health Medical Director Dr. Heidi Gullett said they’re still working to understand how long the virus circulated here undetected.
“There is a lot of work being done to understand if there were people who had infections that resembled COVID before we had PCR tests available and could that indicate the timeframe of the virus circulating before that,” said Gullet.
The state health department lists a man in his 60s who began showing symptoms of coronavirus on February 15 as Cuyahoga County’s first probable case.
“Now that we have serology or antibody testing, I know there’s a lot of thought about when did this appear in various communities and exactly how did that spread happen,” said Gullett.
To try and answer that question, Cuyahoga County’s medical examiner said he plans to review specimens collected during autopsies before anyone realized the virus was here.
“Then obviously we could take a look if we have a person who tests positive and say what were their symptoms and do they suggest a person who died of coronavirus or had it but was not really symptomatic for it,” said Dr. Thomas Gilson.